Southwest Anime lovers flower at festival

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LAS CRUCES, N.M. — Hundreds of people dressed in brightly colored costumes, wielding plastic weapons ranging from the largest Styrofoam swords to the smallest light-up magic wands, telling heroic tales of giant robots, ninjas, death gods, magical girls and samurai flocked to New Mexico State University’s Corbett Center.

Guests of Las Cruces Anime Day dress in maid costumes based on character designs for the Anime “Naruto.” Costume Play, or “Cosplay,” is regarded as a tradition at anime conventions. (Photo courtesy of Alicia Nicole Bracken)

Las Cruces Anime Days, the region’s premiere Anime and Japanese culture festival now in its second year of celebration drew the motley crowd on a Saturday in late January.

Crossing the halls between the Artist Alley, Dealer’s Room, event rooms, karaoke, video gaming rooms and panels, the images that surround the crowd couldn’t be more different from one another. At one table, original volume of manga, depicts the semi-realistic lives of students in high school. At another you could find an independent artist selling uniquely styled glassware and embroidery. At yet another table, rows of original art depicted Japanese Anime series set in the American old west.

Each idea and profession appeared to be unique and independently conceived, but to the denizens of this meeting all these artworks and series were connected. They serve one master and it is Anime.

Most recognizable Anime images depict cartoonish individuals set against extremely elaborate and realistic backdrops in a uniquely Japanese style. “It isn’t like the animation you’d watch in America; it’s not childish. It was very graphic and detailed, to the point,” said Michael Galliendo, the vice president of the Anime Appreciation Society of El Paso, a club that meets regularly at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Danielle A. Aguirre shows off her second place winning drawing during Las Cruces Anime Days 2011's Iron Artist competition. (Photo courtesy of Alicia Nicole Bracken)

Danielle A. Aguirre shows off her second place winning drawing during Las Cruces Anime Days 2011's Iron Artist competition. (Photo courtesy of Alicia Nicole Bracken)

Anime has a unique history in the southwest United States, particularly in El Paso and Las Cruces, which border Mexico. Many of the fans at the convention this year saw their first favorite Anime series dubbed in Spanish on local television stations broadcasting out of Juarez and became fans of the art form years before the American Anime invasion of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“I used to watch Anime on Spanish TV. I grew up watching Anime and playing video games all my life,” said artist Samuel Saucedo. “I remember a lot of old ones like Samurai Pizza Cats, Dragon Ball, Ranma, Saint Saiya…all those Animes were really good, awesome.”

Many individuals appreciate the art form for its deep and rich storytelling content. Jorge Santiago, who is the leader of this convention’s Artist Alley, praised the flexibility any particular Anime story may possesses. “Specifically, in a serious story, when a moment comes to break the tension, the art style changes to fit that feeling. I think that is an aspect that is sometimes lost in other media.”

Often, local Anime fans shared this fandom with their family and friends, who them became fans.

“When my sister was little she used to watch it, so I caught on and started watching it too.  So after that I started drawing it,” said Liz Perez, one of the artists drawing in the Artist Alley. She and others were inspired to make Anime the central focus of their creative endeavors, which were for sale in the Artist Alley.

“I’ve pretty much been drawing all my life in this style,” said Yamel Beltran, the artist responsible for drawing this year’s LCAD logo. “[it]was something I was watching since I was little, so I started imitating it, and it just grew from there.” Another artist, John Robles, echoed this claim. “I’ve always been drawing but since I liked this cartoon so much I tried to imitate the style since at the time I couldn’t find anything else that was similar.”

Ruben Rascon III, dress as his original character “Sonic Man”, won the Judge's Pick award at this year's Las Cruces Anime Day. (Photo courtesy of Alicia Nicole Bracken)

Ruben Rascon III, dress as his original character “Sonic Man”, won the Judge's Pick award at this year's Las Cruces Anime Day. (Photo courtesy of Alicia Nicole Bracken)

“My first Anime convention was A-Kon in Dallas. It was fun, but in the end it was just me spending money on things,” said Santiago, who, since his first convention-going experience, has written and published seven graphic novels, including three volumes of his flagship series The Wolves of Sariel.

Other artists at the convention sold their own graphic novels and color art prints, as well as other merchandise including aluminum buttons, t-shirts, hand-made stuffed animals and cell phone charms. Many of the artists only sell these materials at conventions bringing out their wares a few times a year for the meetings in El Paso, Las Cruces, and perhaps a few others out of town.

Denizens of the artist’s alley said they were proud of the outcome of the event, going home a little bit richer and a lot prouder of their craft. “I think it was very successful,” said Santiago “I think they put on a better show than last year and I think they hit it out of the park…The best thing they can ask for is for happy con attendees and I think they got it.”

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